There’s a theory prescribed to by political observers and operatives that when a party benefits from a “wave election” one year, the next time around it’s going to lose seats. But the Democratic Party, which regained the majority in both chambers of Congress in 2006, hopes to beat the historical odds and actually increase those numbers in November. With a record number of retiring House Republicans and the loss of three conservative seats in special elections this year, the Democrats might just get their wish.
“Right now we’re targeting upwards of 50 GOP [incumbent and open] seats in every region of the country, from Alaska to Florida,” explains Doug Thornell, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). “What we’re really trying to do is beat history and win seats in an election cycle when history tells us we should actually lose some.”
There’s no question that Republicans are on the defense. Every House seat is up for re-election, and according to the Cook Political Report, of those, 23 Republicans and three Democrats are retiring; four Democrats and three Republicans are seeking other office; and one member from each party was defeated in primaries. Among the most competitive races, Democrats have 19 seats listed as leaning their way or toss-ups, versus the Republicans’ 29 of which 18 are open.
On the Senate side, where 35 lawmakers are up for re-election, Cook reports that of the 12 Democrats, 10 are solid seats, with the remaining two leaning their way. Across the aisle, there are 23 Republicans up for re-election, with six toss-up seats, and one seat in Virginia that will likely go Democrat. The remaining four are likely or leaning Republican.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, is in a close race against GOP challenger and state treasurer Jack Kennedy, who, interestingly, is a former Democrat. According to RealPolitics.com, the loss of black voters who’ve relocated as a result of Hurricane Katrina could hurt Landrieu. New York Republican Rep. Vince Fossella has been forced to resign his seat after a DUI stop revealed him to have a secret second family. The GOP had hoped to run a wealthy self-funding candidate, Frank Powers, to fill this now toss-up seat. Unfortunately, Powers, who was 68, died in his sleep this past Sunday.
“I think [the special election losses] were a warning for Republicans that they can take nothing for granted this year,” says Frank Donatelli, Republican National Committee co-chair. “We’ll have to work hard to win Republicans and add to that a sufficient number of independents and some Democrats to put together personal winning coalitions. The environment is challenging, but we have a number of very good candidates.”
Thornell says Democrats aren’t taking anything for granted, either, and have a front-line program to assist incumbents facing the most competitive races. In addition, the DCCC has recruited what it considers to be a strong group of new Democratic challengers. “I think the strength of our recruitment efforts is epitomized by the three special elections we won in Republican